Reaching consumers in an age of information overload: a fan-based approach

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NRI - Nomura Research Institute

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24/07/2023 Interview
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Naoyuki Sato

fanbase company Inc


Japanese consumers have seen drastic changes in the information environment in the wake of the ongoing information deluge and social media’s proliferation in recent years. In response, Naoyuki Sato, founder of fanbase company Inc, advocates abandoning traditional marketing techniques in favor of a fan-based approach, the concept of which differs from both customer centricity and fan cultivation. NRI spoke to Mr. Sato about the basics of the fan-based approach and its applicability to the financial services industry.

You’ve founded fanbase company Inc, which is both promoting and practicing a fan-based approach to business. To begin, could you explain your fan-based approach in a nutshell?

I worked in advertising for 20 years. My job was to come up with ways to sell products to new customers and make people aware of products they didn’t know existed. Today, I keenly feel that traditional approaches to gaining new customers no longer work for several reasons.

First, there’s too much information nowadays. For example, the amount of information in the world increased by an estimated 59 zettabytes (trillion gigabytes)  in 2020 alone. The number of bytes in a zettabyte is equivalent to the number of grains of sand in the world, an incomprehensibly vast quantity. People are now so inundated with information that they’ve become numb to it, making them less receptive to incoming information than in the past.

Second, informational media have proliferated too much, including not only mass media but countless online media also.

Third, the amount of entertainment content available today is equally vast. On YouTube alone, the amount of video uploaded daily is equivalent to 82 years of viewing time. Including video-sharing social media platforms like TikTok, video streaming services like Netflix, movie theaters and TV programming, a staggering amount of video is broadcast, streamed or otherwise played every day. In addition to video, there are countless other social media sites/apps, many print media like books and newspapers and many live events as well. With so many choices available, consumers pay no attention to the vast majority of them by necessity. They consequently don’t encounter advertisements much if at all.
Meanwhile, Japan is an Internet laggard. The most popular social media platform in Japan is Twitter with some 50 million monthly active users, about 20% of which are heavy users who collectively account for 80% of total Twitter usage time (per Nielsen). In other words, only about 10 million Japanese actually use Twitter regularly. Their tweets are not reaching the other 110 million Japanese. Incidentally, it has been reported that Japanese as a whole don’t use Internet search much either.

In sum, the Japanese public is largely tuning out the surfeit of information, media and content and surprisingly does even not use social media or search much. How on earth can companies get their messages across to consumers? I had largely given up hope on reaching consumers until I realized the fan-based approach is a surefire way to do so. The fan-based approach means taking good care of your fans in the aim of driving revenue growth, generating more value and gaining new customers.

The one way to reliably reach consumers even in today’s challenging information environment is through word of mouth from family and friends. Surveys have revealed that people overwhelmingly trust information from family and friends over endorsements by experts, influencers and celebrities. And if your family members or friends are fans of a certain brand or company, they will talk about it enthusiastically. Rethinking communication from such a perspective is what the fan-based approach is all about.

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